Sunday, February 22, 2004

Crime fiction and sundry 

Some weekends, there's barely anything genre-wise of note, and other times it's like hitting the motherlode. I mean, when Laura Miller gets in on the act, you know that something's in the water. Especially because she's written something that I really can't mock in any form because in this case, she's right--all this DA VINCI CODE crap is wince-inducing and reprinting non-fiction books that have been debunked (though naturally, everyone's forgotten) just makes matters more annoying.

The Times in general seems to be awfully mystery-happy this week, and it's not just because Marilyn Stasio's roundup is in the mix. Though she has deemed Scott Phillips' COTTONWOOD worthy of her attention, and basically agrees with my own sentiments though of course, she's far more coy about coming right out and saying so. Still, she admires Phillips' "wit and gusto" and his refusal to cop out or rewrite history for the sake of creating a sympathetic protagonist. In short? She digs. Also meriting her critical gaze are new books by Robert Barnard (good review) Laurence Klavan (gleeful popcorn) Nevada Barr (strong start, disappointing finish) and Michael Dibdin (pretty damned fine.)

And Charles Taylor, better known to some folks as Salon's mystery columnist, gushes, positively gushes about Ian Rankin's A QUESTION OF BLOOD. I must admit though that I was distracted by the photo of Ian, dating from last year, for two reasons: one, it was taken at Partners & Crime! I can totally recognize the outline of the fireplace and the back office where all the ARCs are hiding. And then, sadly, there is Rankin's hair. For someone as well-regarded and bestselling as he is, it never ceases to amaze me how his hairstyle never quite passes muster. I suppose the situation could have improved in the last few months, but I'm not optimistic.....

Turning to the Globe and Mail, the trend continues. Margaret Cannon's crime column gives a big thumbs-up to Robert Harris's POMPEII, Walter Mosley's THE MAN IN MY BASEMENT, is mostly positive about John Grisham's THE LAST JUROR and Mark Nykanen's THE BONE PARADE, and finally, reviews a mystery novel by one of Canada's most beloved broadcasters (though one I frequently mock because I saw way too many episodes of his fanboyishly cloying SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES as a child), Elwy Yost. Although she likes that his book, WHITE SHADOWS, makes use of Elwy's knowledge of film and its history, she has a problem with its penchant for too many plots. Sorry, Elwy.

Meanwhile, Martin Levin columnizes about Peter Robinson (whom I discussed at length yesterday for very different reasons) , why his latest novel, PLAYING WITH FIRE, is so good, and discusses where the genre is heading in its slow shift from "whodunit" to why and how.

The Washington Post Book World is less about actual mystery books reviewed than having said authors do the reviewing. Laura Lippman looks at a memoir of Rosemary Dew, a female FBI agent who worked the beat in the 1970s and 80s, and finds it a fascinating work although not necessarily insightful on current Bureau attitudes. Meanwhile, David Liss is enchanted by Sarah Dunant's historical novel THE BIRTH OF VENUS, which is set in Renaissance-era Florence.

Other reviews of note in this week's Book World include Dennis Drabelle's rave for Canadian author Guy Vanderhaeghe's THE LAST CROSSING, and a less-glowing review for THE FOREST LOVER, Susan Vreeland's ficitionalized account of Canadian artist Emily Carr.

At the Guardian Review, there are a couple of thriller-y reviews like Matthew Lewin's roundup of books that have been reviewed in a zillion places already and PD Smith's look at a dark biotechnology tale by Paul McAuley, but (especially for Mark) there's also John Banville's review of a non-fiction work about the men responsible for splitting the atom, and a lengthy profile of Canadian author Mavis Gallant, who at 81 is still going strong and editing her journals for future publication.

While at Sunday's Observer, Laura Baggaley is unsure what to make of Janette Turner Hospital's 9/11 aftermath thriller DUE PREPARATIONS FOR THE PLAGUE, and Irish author Maggie O'Farrell was expecting a girl--the doctors said so! Thus it was a surprise when she gave birth to....a boy.

In news not confined to book review supplements, Bob Walch gives another overview of the currently ongoing Left Coast Crime Convention, where more pictures have trickled in at various undisclosed locations. Looks like everybody's having a blast....

Jack Batten's crime column in the Toronto Star concentrates on Val McDermid's THE DISTANT ECHO, using the novel as a means of discussing the whole cold case phenomenon in general.

Sue Turnbull appreciates Stephen Knight's scholarly approach to crime fiction and his thesis that the genre has "always been postmodern."

R.B Strauss reviews the new historical mystery AMBROSE BIERCE AND THE ONE-EYED JACKS.

Dame Muriel Spark is still alive, kicking, and thriving, and speaks to the Sunday Glasgow Herald about her latest book and where her life is going at the moment.

Andrew Crumey is less than impressed with World Book Day's questionnaire to discern reading patterns.

Deborah Moggach is interviewed in Scotland on Sunday in the wake of the news that one of her books will be filmed shortly.

And finally, the second series of ITV's WIRE IN THE BLOOD is airing now. Based on Val McDermid's novels, they are now filming original scripts. But Ian Bell at the Glasgow Herald isn't terribly taken with the show, wondering why Robson Green was cast in the first place (um, maybe because in spite of his star-like appeal, he can actually kind of act?)

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